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PREVIEW: Patrick Henry worries about the future under the Constitution if men forget their virtues
Mandeville, LA – We Americans spend most of our days as the “political animals” Aristotle said we were and we do this at the expense of conversation and life that is lived and not thought about, complained about or dreaded. In the writings of 18th & 19th century men including the Founding Fathers we find a common current running through their rich rivers: a firm eye always cast on the almighty; a sense of humility brought on by the awe The One commanded in their order. We can almost feel their dread for the future they have set in motion, that events will turn for the worse and make men more worse in the eyes The Statesman.
Patrick Henry is thought of today as a loud yet eloquent promoter of what today’s libertarians call “liberty” as though that ideal of freedom from oppressive States is in concert with today’s lust for no State. In one of Henry’s final acts of devotion to his countrymen he wrote a letter to Archibald Blair laying out his fears for the young union’s future and what he thought would be its key to longevity and happiness on the one hand or its ignorance leading to despotism on the other that is “…virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.” – Mike Church
Red Hill, Charlotte, 8 January, 1799.
Your favor of the 28th of last month I have received. Its contents are a fresh proof that there is cause for much lamentation over the present state of things in Virginia. It is possible that most of the individuals who compose the contending factions are sincere, and act from honest motives. But it is more than probable, that certain leaders meditate a change in government. To effect this, I see no way so practicable as dissolving the confederacy. And I am free to own, that, in my judgment, most of the measures lately pursued by the opposition party, directly and certainly lead to that end. If this is not the system of the party, they have none, and act ‘ ex tempore.’
I do acknowledge that I am not capable to form a correct judgment on the present politics of the world. The wide extent to which the present contentions have gone will scarcely permit any observer to see enough in detail to enable him to form anything like a tolerable judgment on the final result, as it may respect the nations in general. But, as to France, I have no doubt in saying that to her it will be calamitous. Her conduct has made it the interest of the great family of mankind to wish the downfall of her present government; because its existence is incompatible with that of all others within its reach. And, whilst I see the dangers that threaten ours from her intrigues and her arms, I am not so much alarmed as at the apprehension of her destroying the great pillars of all government and of social life, — I mean virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed. In vain may France show and vaunt her diplomatic skill, and brave troops: so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.
But believing, as I do, that these are in danger, that infidelity in its broadest sense, under the name of philosophy, is fast spreading, and that, under the patronage of French manners and principles, everything that ought to be dear to man is covertly but successfully assailed, I feel the value of those men amongst us, who hold out to the world the idea, that our continent is to exhibit an originality of character; and that, instead of that imitation and inferiority which the countries of the old world have been in the habit of exacting from the new, we shall maintain that high ground upon which nature has placed us, and that Europe will alike cease to rule us and give us modes of thinking.
But I must stop short, or else this letter will be all preface. These prefatory remarks, however, I thought proper to make, as they point out the kind of character amongst our countrymen most estimable in my eyes. General Marshall and his colleagues exhibited the American character as respectable. France, in the period of her most triumphant fortune, beheld them as unappalled. Her threats left them, as she found them, mild, temperate, firm. Can it be thought that, with these sentiments, I should utter anything tending to prejudice General Marshall’s election? Very far from it indeed. Independently of the high gratification I felt from his public ministry, he ever stood high in my esteem as a private citizen. His temper and disposition were always pleasant, his talents and integrity unquestioned.
These things are sufficient to place that gentleman far above any competitor in the district for Congress. But, when you add the particular information and insight which he has gained, and is able to communicate to our public councils, it is really astonishing that even blindness itself should hesitate in the choice. . . . Tell Marshall I love him, because he felt and acted as a republican, as an American. … I am too old and infirm ever again to undertake public concerns. I live much retired, amidst a multiplicity of blessings from that Gracious Ruler of all things, to whom I owe unceasing acknowledgments for his unmerited goodness to me; and if I was permitted to add to the catalogue one other blessing, it should be, that my countrymen should learn wisdom and virtue, and in this their day to know the things that pertain to their peace. Farewell. I am, dear Sir, yours,